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This booklet explains the history of Hanukkah, the symbolism and significance of lighting candles for eight nights, the blessings that accompany the lighting of the candles, the holiday's foods, the game of dreidels, and more!
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Some years Hanukkah and Christmas overlap—not only do they overlap this year, but the first night of Hanukkah falls on Christmas Eve! To have a little fun with this intersection of holidays, I made two non-traditional versions of a classic Hanukkah mainstay: latkes. Red and green latkes, to be precise. The red latkes are made from beets and the green latkes are made from broccoli. Italian cooks like to add a little Parmesan to their frittelle di broccoli (broccoli fritters). I left mine plain with just a little ricotta, but feel free to add some Parmesan for an Italian flair.
The beet latkes are like the “rich man’s latkes” from my mother’s cookbook since they don’t have anything added like flour to make them heartier. They’re more delicate than the broccoli latkes and are almost lacy when cooked. The broccoli has more moisture, so I added extra flour and some ricotta to make them a bit fluffier.
Latkes Two Ways
2 small or 1 large onion
2 cups fresh broccoli
2 Tbsp. flour
¼ cup full-fat ricotta cheese
4 Tbsp. vegetable or grapeseed oil
1 tsp. salt
½ tsp. pepper
Sour cream, optional
Apple sauce, optional
1. Fill a medium-sized pot with water and salt to blanch the broccoli. Trim the stalk of the broccoli by cutting off the rough end and peeling the rest. Then slice the broccoli into large “trees.” Add the broccoli to the boiling water for 2 minutes. While it blanches, prepare a bowl of ice and water to shock the broccoli after removing from pot. Drain and set aside to cool.
2. Grate the onions and squeeze them in a kitchen towel to get as much of the onion juice out as possible. Discard juice.
3. Peel and grate the beets on the large-grate side of a box grater. Squeeze them in a paper towel (unless you don’t mind staining a cloth towel) and discard the juice.
4. Mix the grated beets, 2 eggs and half of the grated onions in a bowl. Season with ½ tsp. salt and about ¼ tsp. pepper. Set aside.
5. Cut the broccoli stalks down all the way to the very top of the florets so you have tiny florets and stalks. Break the florets up into a bowl (like crumbling feta cheese with your fingers). Grate the stalks on the box grater and add them to the florets.
7. Mix in flour, ricotta, one egg, the rest of the grated onion and the remaining ½ tsp. salt and ¼ tsp pepper. Set aside.
8. In a hot frying pan, add 2 Tbsp.vegetable or grapeseed oil and heat over medium-high heat. Take a spoonful of the beet mixture (it will be very delicate), squeeze it slightly and lay it into the pan to fry. Don’t move the beet latkes when placed in the pan until they begin to brown a little around the edges, about 3-5 minutes. Once they begin to darken (if you’re not sure, you can peek underneath after a few minutes), flip and cook on the other side 3-5 minutes.
9. While the beet latkes are frying, prepare a plate with paper towels to drain the latkes. Once you’ve fried all the beet latkes, use a paper towel to carefully wipe out the oil (turn off the heat). Then add remaining 2 Tbsp. oil and fry the broccoli latkes, following the same method.
Let’s face it, the star of any Hanukkah meal is always the latkes. Those crispy, fried, salted potato pancakes could be turned out all night and the plate would always be polished off within minutes.
Whether you dollop apple sauce or slather sour cream on top, latkes don’t quite make a full meal. (For the perfect latke recipe, click here.) This hearty salad is a perfect way to round it out. It can easily be prepped while the latkes are frying or earlier in the day. If your crew is especially hungry, start off with a bowl of matzah ball soup.
Almost every culture has a way of using up stale bread, from Italian panzanellas to Lebanese fatoush salads, from crisped bits of bread at the bottom of a French onion soup to croutons on a garden salad. Inspired by mandel/Shkedei marak, which are mini crackers that Israelis (and Jewish Americans) like to pour in their soup, this fall salad has sweet potato mandel. Mandel are used like New England’s oyster crackers, but they are much smaller in size.
Hanukkah Salad with Delicata Squash & Baby Spinach
This salad serves four people as a main dish to be served with latkes. It can serve 6-8 as a side salad.
1 5oz container of pre-washed baby spinach
1 large carrot
1 delicata squash
12 medium Brussels sprouts
1 Tbsp. olive oil
2 Tbsp. canola oil
1 bunch of fresh thyme (8-9 sprigs)
1 small sweet potato
1/4 tsp. Sriracha
1/2 tsp. of honey
1/2 cup of light cream or half & half
Kosher salt & sea salt (for the blanching water)
1/2 cup of walnuts, pistachios or pine nuts (optional)
The beauty of delicata squash is that it does not have to be peeled. The skin is tender and when it is roasted it is just perfect for a hearty addition to a salad.
1. Preheat a toaster oven or oven to 425° F. Put a medium sized pot of water on the stove to boil. Salt the water well (3-5 tsp. of sea salt or Kosher salt). Fill a medium-sized bowl with ice water leaving room for the Brussels sprouts when they come out of the blanching pot.
2. While the water is boiling, prep your Brussels sprouts. Remove a few of the outer leaves of the Brussels Sprouts until you get to the clean, fresh leaf. Cut large ones in half and smaller ones can be left whole. Do not remove the stem or core yet.
3. Put the clean Brussels sprouts into the boiling, salted water for 3 minutes. Using a slotted spoon, remove the Brussels sprouts and plunge them into the ice water. Keep the blanching water for later. Cut larger Brussels sprouts in half. Remove the bottom stem from the tiny ones and you can core the larger sprouts by cutting a small ‘v’ in the bottom just above the stem.
Keep the seeds to be roasted. They make a delicious garnish for the salad and with a honey Sriracha glaze add a nice sweet and spicy crunch as well.
4. Wash and slice the delicata squash, skin and all, and carefully remove the seeds and pulp. Keep the seeds in a bowl to be roasted.
5. On a foil-lined tray, drizzle 1/2 Tbsp. of olive oil. Place the slices of squash and the Brussels sprouts on the tray. Drizzle the other 1/2 Tbsp. of olive oil on top and sprinkle with 1/2 tsp of Kosher salt, three sprigs of thyme and 1/2 tsp. of pepper. Roast for 25 minutes.
6. While the squash is roasting, peel the sweet potato and cut it into pea-sized cubes. Place the cubes into a bowl of water. Bring the blanching water back to a boil and prepare another bowl of ice water. Blanch the sweet potato cubes for 2 minutes and then submerge in ice water. With a slotted spoon remove the sweet potato cubes from the ice water and let them dry on a dish towel.
The sweet potato cubes dry out before they get fried into little crouton-like mandel.
7. Prepare your salad dressing. Mince 1 shallot and place in a jar. Add 1 Tbsp. of freshly squeezed lemon juice, 1/4 tsp. of Kosher salt, 1/2 cup of light cream and the leaves from 3 sprigs of thyme. Shake the jar and place it in the fridge until the rest of the salad is assembled.
8. Remove the roasted vegetables from the oven and let them come to room temperature. Leave the oven on. Then, add canola oil to a large frying pan over medium high heat. Once a drop of water dances on top of the oil, it is ready. Carefully pour in the dried sweet potato cubes and let them brown on all sides, 10-15 minutes. With a slotted spoon remove the sweet potato mandel and sprinkle them with salt.
9. Wash and dry the delicata squash seeds. In the hot sweet potato oil, add the leaves from 3 more sprigs of thyme. (Be careful: They will splatter a little.) Toss in the dry squash seeds and stir. Roast the seeds on a tray in the oven for 5-8 minutes until golden. In a small bowl, mix the Sriracha and honey. Toss the seeds in the honey/Sriracha mix and then return to the tray to roast for 2-3 more minutes. Watch these as they can burn quickly.
10. In a bowl, add your spinach and top with the sweet potato mandel, roasted squash and Brussels sprouts. If you would like to add nuts, you can toast them in a dry pan and then sprinkle them over the salad once cooled. With the carrot on a cutting board with a lot of pressure on the peeler, peel strips of carrot and sprinkle them over the salad. Top with the roasted squash seeds and serve with the creamy lemon thyme dressing.
If you have just been asked to make the latkes for your child’s classroom during Hanukkah or the family thinks that you should be in charge of making the potato latkes for the first time, do not despair! I promise you this year you will make the best latkes you, or anyone else has ever had (and that was a quote from the head rabbi of the URJ after he thanked me for my “Tina’s Tidbits”!).
Although there are many stories associated with the triumph of the Maccabees and the redemption of the Holy Temple from the hands of the Syrian armies of Antiochus, the story of the one sealed bottle of oil for the Ner Tamid (everlasting light) in the Temple that lasted for eight days instead of one has been the foundation for traditional holiday cooking. Foods fried in oil have become synonymous with Hanukkah celebrations, especially in Europe.
However, most people do not know that potato latkes (pancakes) were created in the late 1700s and really didn’t take on the symbolism until the early 1800s when potatoes were readily available and raised geese were harvested for their meat and oil at the same time that the holiday was celebrated.
The following recipe, if followed step by step, will be easy to make (no peeling potatoes!), will NOT turn black, and will be crisp and fluffy, not thin and greasy.
One last tip: NEVER refrigerate latkes! Either leave them at room temperature until ready to serve in the evening, or freeze them. Either way, reheat the latkes for 7-10 minutes in a 425°F oven just until they are bubbly and crisp. Your family will praise you and your in-laws will be proud of you (and a little jealous!!!).
6-8 large thin-skinned potatoes; California long whites or Yukon Gold
3 eggs, beaten well
1 Tbsp. salt
1/2 tsp. freshly ground pepper
1/2 cup matzo or cracker meal
1 large onion, cut into 8 pieces
Oil for frying
Watch a video fo Tina making these latkes with applesauce
1. Grate the raw potatoes using the large grating disk on a processor or the largest holes on a grater if doing it by hand. Place grated potato in a colander, rinse with cold water and drain while you grate the onion.
2. Combine eggs, salt, pepper and matzo meal in a 3-quart bowl. Mix thoroughly.
3. Change to the cutting blade on your processor. Add onions to the work bowl. Pulse on and off 5 times. Add ¼ of the grated potatoes to the onion and pulse on and off to make a coarse paste. Add to the egg mixture and stir to combine.
4. Add the drained potatoes to the bowl and mix thoroughly using a large spoon or your hands.
5. Heat a large frying pan or large skillet for 20 seconds. Add enough oil to cover the pan to a depth of 1/4 inch and heat for an additional 20 seconds. Drop mounds of potato mixture into the pan. Fry on both sides until golden. Drain fried latkes on a platter covered with crumpled paper towels. Serve with applesauce and sour cream.
Growing up, latkes were always the purview of my dad and my grandma, but now that they’ve both passed away, the baton has been passed to me. Their latkes were the totally traditional, no frills, hand-grated style and they were served alongside my mom’s Corn Flake Chicken, a family friend’s homemade applesauce and my Great Aunt Shirley’s sweet and sour meatballs at our annual family and friends Hanukkah party.
The times have changed, however, and now our family is more spread out with the grandparents retired to Florida and siblings and cousins flung far and wide. While we’ll be celebrating Hanukkah in our house, we’ll also be traveling to Connecticut for Christmas with my sister-in-law, her husband, my nephew and their three fat cats. My in-laws will be up from Florida as well, and this is our only opportunity to celebrate any of the December holidays together, so, we’re doing it all at once!
For some families this is a time of tension, figuring out how to combine multiple faith traditions, but I think when it comes to food, eating together can only bring us together. I love traditional Jewish food, and will make my family’s latkes at some point during the holiday, but for our Hanukkah/Christmas in Connecticut, I’ll be bringing along these delicious baked sweet potato latkes which you need no prior latke-making experience to perfect!
Latkes can get baked as easily as fried
At Hanukkah we usually eat foods that are fried—in memory of the oil that lasted for eight days—which is why latkes and sufganiyot (jelly-filled doughnuts) are often on the menu, but, when you’re cooking in someone else’s house, you might want to steer clear from the frying, lest you leave their whole house smelling of latkes until New Year’s. This recipe is really the best of both worlds, as it employs oil in the recipe, but they are not deep fried. They still come out incredibly crispy thanks to the finely-grated potatoes and onions and the help of the baking powder.
This recipe is incredibly versatile and once you learn the technique you can tweak it to include the spices you like the most. It pairs well with chicken, beef or fish, or could be served as an appetizer, topped with crème fraiche or a mango chutney. While my dad and grandma may have disapproved, I really need to take the help wherever I can get it during busy holiday dinners, so I’ll be taking advantage of my food processor when preparing these. Another tool that is a huge help in this recipe is a microplane to grate the fresh ginger.
Perfectly Crisp Baked Sweet Potato Latkes
Ingredients Makes about 12 latkes
2 cups grated sweet potato
½ cup grated onion
¼ cup flour
¼ cup olive oil
1 tsp. smoked paprika
1 tsp. grated fresh ginger
½ tsp. ginger powder
1 tsp. salt
½ tsp. pepper
¼ tsp. baking powder
Fresh ginger, grated sweet potato and grated, strained onion
Preheat oven to 400°F
Peel and grate sweet potatoes (easiest to use grating disk on food processor, then squeeze out any liquid)
Grate onion (using grating disk on food processor, then drain in fine mesh strainer, pushing liquid through with a spatula)
Mix all of your bright ingredients together
4. Combine all ingredients 5. Using a ¼ cup measuring cup, form patties, place on greased cookie sheet, flatten down patties with a fork in a criss-cross pattern. (Alternatively, you could cook this as one LARGE pancake in a cast iron pan or a pie pan, and then cut it in slices to serve.)
6. Bake for 25 minutes, flip and bake for 15 more minutes until crisp and slightly brown
Wishing you all the best as you celebrate this joyous time of year with your family or friends! Let us know how the cooking goes in the comments section below and for more Hanukkah recipes, click here.
Here are some links to my favorite products to use in this recipe, which could also be great holiday gifts for the foodie on your list:
Sarah Ruderman Wilensky is the founder of JewFood through which she teachers about Jewish values, culture, history and holidays through cooking and eating, because–what’s more Jewish than food? Sarah has been in the field of Jewish Education for over a decade, with experience in synagogues, camps and universities and currently works as the Jewish Educator at the Jewish Community Center of Greater Boston. Sarah has an undergraduate degree from Muhlenberg College in Theater Arts and studied in the MARE program at Hebrew Union College in New York. She is also a StorahTelling trained Educator, has been a member of the National Association of Temple Educators, Hazon’s Jewish Food Educators Network and CJP’s Families with Young Children Community of Practice. Sarah lives near Boston with her husband, two young children and cat, Brisket.